Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Summertime, and the livin' is easy ... if you are an MLA

Hold those sunbeds! 108 of them to be precise ... Even as we speak our MLAs are preparing themselves this week for the start of their hard-earned summer break. A mere couple of months since you ask.

The rest of the country may still be concerned with the usual trifles of the day - mopping up the last of the flood damage, trying to get money out of the Ulster Bank, fuming in the traffic jams of summer roadworks, battling through July hailstones and monsoon and worrying - should the pressure of all these factors impact upon their health - will there even be a local A-amp;E still operational if they need one.

Happily no such concerns for our MLAs.

For them it's an all-party review of poolside facilities, the unanimous vote to erect sun parasols, committee scrutiny of the cocktail menu and order, order at the snack bar.

And OK, so the rest of us get holidays too.

But the couple of months they get up there (plus the weeks at Easter, Hallowe'en, Christmas) hardly equate to the ordinary punters' paltry Twelfth fortnight.

And there's no less than 108 of them ...

This surely is the most grating bit - a whole 108 of them on full paid leave for the months of July and August while the rest of the country is expected to soldier on through recession, cutback, tailback and downpour.

Add together the entire shower of them (what is the collective noun for a grouping of Assembly members - a malaise of MLAs?) with their special advisors and all their families and hangers-on and you have a fairly sizeable whack of the population en vacances.

So how many of them will be leading by example and staycationing this summer (to use tourism's cringey term)?

How many of them will be opting to spend some time in local hotels, splashing their holiday cash around local businesses, giving something back to the local economy?

Or will they be voting with their flip-flopped feet for Malaga, Florida, Tuscany or the luxury holiday home in Donegal?

Apart from Mike Nesbitt's "wanna live like common people" stunt following his election as UUP leader there has been little evidence of any of our MLAs copping that the electorate believe them to be entirely out of touch with the masses and with the times.

We don't need 108 MLAs.

We certainly can't afford 108 MLAs.

And 108 MLAs on a two-month taxpayer-funded vacation at a time when jobs are being lost, businesses are going bust, householders are struggling with debt and public services are being scythed is just a damned disgrace.

The rest of the country has knuckled down to no-frills reality. With shoestring staffing and the paring back of resources, the annual summer fortnight break (if you're lucky) will be more important than ever before. Some small respite from the daily grind.

Up at Stormont on the other hand, it's still first class on the Orient Express. It's an over-staffed, over-paid, runaway gravy train tootling along the tracks, cushioned from reality and seemingly oblivious to the contempt of the hard-pressed electorate.

Message on a postcard to Stormont's pampered 108?

It's not just at holiday time that we wish you weren't here ...

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